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5 Holistic Tips to Strengthen Mind, Body & Spirit During Recovery

Addiction is not a simple health problem. In fact, it can become very complex as the disease itself is not one-size-fits-all. For this reason, many people try a 12-step rehabilitation program like that of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). However, these types of programs oftentimes challenge the participant with the strict rigidity of the program, or the person struggles to take the program one day at a time. In 12-step recovery programs like that of AA, or NA, participants may also have difficulty with some of the steps including that of making amends, or believing in a higher power.

It is very important to know that if you are struggling with an addiction, there are more than just 12-step recovery programs as an option for treatment. And it is vital that you find just the right combination of therapies to help you successfully maintain your sobriety.

Finding the Right Path

According to Dr. Meredith Sagan, a UCLA-trained psychiatrist from Prominence Treatment Center, “For some, this act of acknowledgement isn’t something they are interested in doing, and so the 12-step model is not a match for them.” So, it is important that you address your feelings before, during, and after choosing a rehabilitation program. If you feel like a non-12-step program would work better for you – it just may! These types of programs include a variety of treatment methods like: individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, medication management, and various forms of holistic healing like yoga stretching, or meditation.

The Best Way to Approach the Road to Recovery

While there are many different treatment plans available including 12-step programs, and other options, none of them will work 100% on their own. It will always take a commitment to working the program in your own life in order to achieve successful long-term recovery. In addition to that, it is critical that you supplement your treatment program with other holistic approaches as you work through it.

Here are just 5 clinically validated ways to approach the road to recovery:

  1. Meditation. This word may intimidate you, but if it does, you’re not alone! However, meditation is probably easier than you think. While you may consider ancient mountains and gurus sitting cross-legged in robes, meditation can be done anywhere. You can even do a 1-minute meditation right in your car if you feel stressed, or anxious.

Scientific studies have shown that performing mediation doesn’t just change the way your mind works, it actually changes your brain. Researchers revealed that these positive brain changes (cortical thickness) occurred after just eight weeks!1

1-Minute Breathing Meditation (Pranayama):

  • Sit in a comfortable position, and place your hands face up in your lap if possible.
  • Face forward, and place your gaze directly in front of you. Then if you are able to, gently close your eyes.
  • Then, take a deep breath through your nose, and slowly count to 5 as you inhale (1-2-3-4-5). This breath should be large enough to fill your belly, and make it rise.
  • As you exhale, release the breath fully out of your mouth as you count to 5 slowly in your mind (1-2-3-4-5).
  • This can be repeated for up to 5 cycles along with an encouraging mantra (meditation phrase). An example of a mantra for recovery you can use is, “One day at a time.” As you exhale, for each cycle of mindful breathing, silently repeat this mantra to calm your energy, and reduce your stress.

NOTE: As you perform this breathing exercise, also known as Pranayama in yoga, allow any thought you have, distraction your hear, or feeling in your body to simply be. As things happen around you, just draw your attention back to your breathing, and continue the meditation.

This type of mindful meditation has been shown to not only positively change the way your brain works, but also improve your overall health.2

  1. Yoga. On the road to recovery, it can seem stressful just to pass the time. For centuries the artful stretching practice of yoga has been used to not only relax the body, but also the mind as it integrates a deeper practice of Pranayama. Studies have confirmed that performing yoga may offer natural anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant effects to the person doing the stretches, also known as asanas.3
  2. Sweat Session. During the first phases of recovery, it is common for people to go through a time of withdrawal, followed by a detoxification period. During this time, it may help to sit in a sauna, or perform exercise in order to increase the production of sweat from your skin. As your body’s largest detoxification organ, your skin is one of the best removal tools for detox.

Studies confirm that a sweat session is an effective way to remove toxins from the body including that of some common environmental pollutants like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.4

If you have started a meditation practice, you may also want to try a Bikram Yoga class. During these hot yoga classes, the temperatures of the yoga studio can reach 105° Fahrenheit (40.5 Celsius) to further encourage detoxification through the skin. Not only that, but they may also boost your good mood as Bikram Yoga workouts are known to increase the production of “feel-good” brain chemicals including serotonin.5

  1. Group Exercise. When you take on a recovery treatment program, it may feel like you are taking on a lot of different changes in your life. And one of the best ways to start getting more social is by trying a group exercise class. Studies show that the effects of doing a workout routine in a group fitness setting may reduce your stress levels, while also improving your overall quality of life.6

Aerobic exercise is one way to really get your detox on! The rapid movements, and cardiovascular activity make aerobics a workout that also acts as a natural anti-depressant. Studies confirm this effect and report that participants who are already familiar with this type of exercise see the most consistent results.7

Dr. Sagan says, “The most valuable tool to have while in recovery is a strong network of support that could include friends, family, a therapist and other individuals who are also in recovery. We were not designed to do life on our own. We were designed to be in connection with people, and it’s through our connectedness and a life lived with purpose that the challenges of recovery can be mitigated and a new way of life can be found.”

  1. Spirituality. On the road to recovery, if you are using a 12-step program, step 2 may shake you. This is the step that calls for integrating a higher power, to help restore your sober sanity. However, many people do not want to believe in a higher power for one reason or another. It could be a negative reaction to organized religion, or even a fear of the spiritual realm in general. But the bottom line is that developing your spirituality on the road to recovery is proven to work! One study showed that a substance abuse treatment program, and spirituality go hand in hand. Spirituality was shown in this study as an independent predictor of successful recovery.8

A Final Note on Mind/Body Health During Recovery  

Recovery is a day-to-day process, and while you cannot get sober overnight, you can develop a strong mind/body connection to help you along the path to sobriety. Remember, that any substance abuse treatment program you want to use is an ideal tool to take you down the road to recovery, but you may need additional therapy options as well. Try these 5 tips to strengthen your connection within your mind, body, and spirit for a smoother road to recovery.


  1. Sara W. Lazar, Catherine E. Kerr. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 2005 Nov 28; 16(17): 1893–1897.
  2. Now and Zen: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Brain and Improve Your Health. The Joseph B. Martin Conference Center The New Research Building Harvard Medical School 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur Boston, MA 02115. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.
  3. Patricia Anne Kinser, PhDc, WHNP-BC, MS, RN, Lisa Goehler, PhD. How Might Yoga Help Depression? A Neurobiological Perspective. Explore (NY). Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Mar 1.
  4. Margaret E. Sears, Kathleen J. Kerr. Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review.

Simon N. Young. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov.

  1. Dayna M. Yorks, Christopher A. Frothingham. Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2017; 117 (11): e17
  2. Dayna M. Yorks, Christopher A. Frothingham. Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2017; 117 (11): e17.
  3. Simon N. Young. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394–399.
  4. Adrienne J. Heinz, B.A., Elizabeth R. Disney, Ph.D. A focus-group study on spirituality and substance-abuse treatment. Subst Use Misuse. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 Sep 22.


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